We No Longer Live in Oz

Or, The Yellow Brick Road is Not So Shiny Any More

I feel badly for my husband Mike.  When I met Mike he was living in the Pacific Northwest.  He was born and raised in Seattle and he lived with his front door unlocked when he slept.  It wasn’t something he did unconsciously he just never needed to lock his front door when he went out or when he was home.

Then I showed up and nearly had a coronary the first night I realized he was leaving the doors and windows unlocked.  I was born in New York and wouldn’t have dreamed of doing this ever.  I had then moved from New York to California and I lived through the terror of the many nights when the Hillside Strangler was lose and we not only locked windows and doors but in some cases we even nailed the windows shut. Mike wasn’t used to my need to lock everything up and he has always trusted those around him.  For me, people have to earn my trust.

Recently, the unthinkable happened to Mike and he was the target of a pickpocket ring while we were visiting Rome.  He was devastated.  It never even occurred to him that he had been targeted but after 12 seconds of watching the group and he interact I asked him if he still had his wallet and sure enough the little ‘bastards’ had lifted his wallet, and his faith in humanity, with it.

We have since had to have serious conversations on staying safe and not allowing others to target us.  I feel badly for him because this has caused him to have to question what people are saying to us and the validity of their questions and even made it harder to trust anyone.

Since his wallet was lifted we have twice more been targets but these times they got nothing and they realized we weren’t playing around.

The first time three kids wanted to help us with our luggage onto the train in Rome; again, they separated me and Mike and I knew immediately what they were doing so I yelled his name and they moved out of my way, but not before one of the girls was trying to open the zipper of my raincoat.

The next time was here in Madrid where a woman came up to Mike and started to ask him if he could help her.  With his hands still inside his pockets he told her he didn’t speak Spanish and couldn’t help.  She turned away disgusted.

Some of the major adjustments we have had to make include; we prop our luggage up against a wall and one of us stands with our backs to the luggage; we both walk with our hands in our pockets and even when people come up and try to ask for help or questions we leave our hands exactly in the pockets. The only thing in those pockets are now used Kleenex so I dare anyone to try and lift what they feel.  We don’t carry anything of value in open pockets.  We have zippered pockets all over all of our garments and we are both now wearing two coats with zippers everywhere and that still isn’t where the money is kept.

What distresses me the most however is the feeling of anger I feel now when we walk around; no longer can we talk freely with people.  Not being able to trust others until they earn this trust is hardest on Mike.  He has always been open and willing to chat with others about our lifestyle and where we have been and what we are doing.  Now we have to watch what we say and to whom; we have to watch others around us to see who is eyeing our luggage; we have to be careful with taxi drivers and where we use an ATM, and more.

The other day the taxi driver didn’t want to get out of the taxi to help us unload the luggage.  I told Mike to sit tight and I got out and unloaded the luggage.  Then I gave him the money for the cab fare.  Too many stories have been written about taxi drivers getting their fare and when the passengers get out they take off with the luggage hoping to score big.  Mike was wondering what I was doing and I had to explain it to him and again I felt badly that thinking the worst of people was part of my job in order to keep us safe and not victims.

I wish the world wasn’t like this.  I wish I could make things go back to the way they were before Mike met me and he didn’t need to lock his front door.  Unfortunately times have changed and this is the new world we live in.  So while we won’t stop traveling we will be more cautious with who we talk with and what we do.  Building relationships everyplace we go is what we do; building them and not being victims is what we must do.  So if we meet please don’t think badly of us if we take time to trust you; you see, the world has changed; we haven’t.  We are still the same warm and friendly people we have always been; we just wait to see if the people on the receiving end are worthy of that friendship.

Florence Lince

Arrivederci Roma

Or, How Do I get My Coins Out of Trevi Fountain

For the first time in my life I am embarrassed to be Italian.  It was my idea for Mike and I to travel to Rome, excited as I was to share the amazing history and beauty of this city with him as we transitioned from Croatia to Spain.  Anyone can simply fly from one country to another but I had the thought that we had the time so we should take a week and explore Rome since Mike had never been here.  It is a week I will not forget.

On the second day of our stay here we took a walk to see the old Roman Forum and the Coliseum.  We spent several hours walking and taking pictures to give Mike time to absorb the history that is Ancient Rome.  It was while leaving the Coliseum that we decided to take the subway back to Termini Station instead of walking the mile back to our hostel.  It was while attempting to board that subway that a group of gypsy kids swarmed Mike and stole his wallet while distracting him.  He didn’t realize it but 12 seconds after they blocked my entrance into the subway I knew something was wrong and I asked him if he had his wallet, he didn’t.  It was too late; the doors to the subway had closed and the kids stood there, still in their circle waiting to speed away with his driver’s license, his credit cards, a little cash, and his pride.   It is humiliating and depressing to be targeted when you feel that you are not target material.

What made things worse in my opinion was that we were told by those who watched this happen how these kids steal; how others in this city keep their wallets and purses chained to their persons; how and where these kids hide to watch for their next victim; and that the police do nothing to stop them.  We were still told to report the theft to the local police department and twice we tried to comply.  We went to a police station after we had called every bank in the US to report the theft and the first station we went to was closed because they had a big case happening and all manpower had been put on that case.  Really?  One of the largest cities in the world and the police department is closed because there is a really big event happening?

The next day we went to another station to report the theft and again we were told to wait and someone would come to take our report.  An hour of watching men walking around the station slapping each other on the back and chatting and doing nothing we left disgusted and more aware than ever why the crime in this city is so high.  There is no one leading this group of people in uniform and this is why gypsies steal on subways and on the streets; there is no one to stop them.

If I had been thinking faster I would have begun to take pictures of those little thieves; tons and tons of photos and then plastered them all over the internet.  Having their mug shots spread all over the internet will help to get their thieving to stop.  It is clear that the police in this city are worthless and ending the crime has to happen with the common man.

Look around Rome the next time you come; if you do; and realize that there is no economy except tourism.  You drive the shops and the restaurants and the hotels and the tourism companies.  Everyone in this city works for you.  It is time to either stop coming here or to demand that you be safe while here.  If they want our money to keep this economy going they had better do something to earn it; like make sure the thieving stops.

Until that time I will no longer look at Rome in the same way; nor will I return.  Thousands of years ago structures were built in this city that are still standing; monuments to past greatness and of those who led this once great country; today there is high crime and graffiti and vandalism everywhere.  For the people of this country to tolerate these facts makes me sad and embarrassed.  It is time for the real citizens of Rome to take their city back and to rid it of the crime and vandalism that Rome is sadly known for.  It is time to fight back against a police department derelict in its duty to those it was sworn to protect.

Rome fell once due to greed and corruption.  Will the citizens of modern Rome let history repeat itself?   Do not let the fiddle play…

Florence Lince